Taiwan has donated 3,120 laptop computers to St. Vincent and the Grenadines, which the government says will go to Form 5 and first-year community college students.
Taiwan Ambassador to SVG, Peter Lan, handed over the devices as well as signed an agreement with Kingstown for this year’s civic development programme — EC$10.8 million.
Lan thanked ASUS, the Taiwanese company that produced the devices, for generously working with Taiwan to make the donation a reality.
The diplomat also thanked Kingstown’s team from the ministries of Foreign Affairs, Finance, and Education for the hard work put in to ensure that all the software operations were sorted out before the devices were handed over to students, teachers and schools.
He noted that more than half of the civic development grant will go to education.
“As I always emphasise, this is a sharing experience between the people and government and St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Let’s continue that 42 years of strong friendship,” Lan said.
Meanwhile, Minister of Finance, Camillo Gonsalves, welcomed the donation, telling the handing over ceremony:
“We are very happy, very grateful to the government and people of Taiwan for this generous gift.”
He said that Kingstown would have had to pay almost EC$4 million if it had to buy the laptops at market prices.
“… but because they are bought in bulk and the friendship between the company and the Taiwan government, the value in terms of what Taiwan spent is just under $2 million — EC$1.7, EC$1.8 million,” Gonsalves said.
“That’s a tremendous gift and we are very grateful for the quantity…” he said, adding that there is an announcement coming regarding additional tablets for students in the lower grades.
“What is important to know right now is that the government is absolutely committed to what we were calling ‘one laptop per child’ a number of years ago. But now it seems like one device every few years. It is more than one laptop per child.”
The finance minister said the government is “absolutely committed to placing devices in the hands of our students and having our students and teachers use them both in the classroom and at home to enhance their learning experience”.
Gonsalves said that the government was so sure that it would receive the computers that he mentioned even the model number — ASUS Chromebook Flip C214 — in the Budget that Parliament approved in January.
He said the distribution of the tablet computers are a continuation of a programme that began with Prime Minister Ralph Gonsalves distributing laptops from Portugal.
He said that during the COVID-19 pandemic, the government provided tablets to every Community College and secondary school students as well as the overwhelming number of primary school students.
The finance minister said that some students would be receiving their third or fourth device from the government.
That is an “absolutely incredible accomplishment” by the government, Gonsalves said, adding that it is “just one part of the toolbox that we try to provide students to help them, as the prime minister says, soar like eagles with their wings unclipped.
“These devices are a continuation of that process and a continuation of the commitment of the government to always place in the hands of our students, modern, equipped technological devices that will enhance their learning experience and their own personal quest for knowledge and the enhancement of their familiarity with computer devices…”
He said the ASUS Chromebook Flip C214, though displayed as laptops at the ceremony, are more than laptops.
“… they are tablets, can be placed as a presentation device and they are designed to be sturdy, rugged, durable; they are light — 2.5 pounds,” Gonsalves said.
He noted that the devices have a hardshell case that is spill proof, stain proof and drop proof, and, therefore, “very well set up for student activity…”
Gonsalves said that the devices are a lot stronger than a tablet because they can close.
“The big problem they had with tablets was broken screens. Once you close this, you are not going to have the broken screen problem,” he said, adding that the other advantage is that they are designed in a way that is fixable for IT professionals.
“Everything in here is modular. If one component is not working, you slip it out and slide in another one. It is not a bunch of soldered wires here, there and everywhere. So it is repairable and durable and I think the students are already familiar with most of the software on it.”
The devices run the Google Chrome software, have in-computer storage and 100 GB of storage on Google.
The finance minister said the devices have a very long battery life, adding that he had used one for 11.5 hours, “playing videos, accessing spreadsheets and word processing documents”.
He said the apps on the devices are those on an android phone and accessible on Google Play.
“Out of the box, it comes with the ability to connect to the internet, it has two cameras, it has a keyboard and it has the whole Google array of software and integrates very well with the Google software suite.”
He said the government has discussed a trade-in programme, but the prime minister did not approve.
Gonsalves said that his ministry has charged the National Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (NTRC) “to double- and triple-check and put additional hardware” in the schools to whose students the devices will be distributed.
He said the NTRC has bought additional routers and antennas to make sure that they can take the load when the additional devices come on stream.
Regarding the civil development programme, Gonsalves said half of the EC$10.8 million will go to the Supportive Education and Training (SET) and the Youth Empowerment Service programmes, in the sums of EC$2.5 million and EC$2.8 million, respectively.
Over 1,000 young people are enrolled on the SET and YES programmes.
Some of the monies will also go to improving the public CCTV network, which Gonsalves said has proven important in crime-fighting, as well as equipment for the Government Printery.
Meanwhile, Minister of Education, Curtis King said some of the computers will be used in the administration of the school system.
He said education officials are preparing for the roll out of an education management system that will be used from pre-primary to post-secondary.
King said his ministry is embarking on the introduction in primary and secondary school and a pilot project will commence soon.